Feb 21, 2020















We’re approaching the end of a long and troubled summer, but not the end of the fire season.


As we’ve learned, the two things are no longer synonymous.


A new climate – and new change – is here.


This summer is something we hope we never have to go through again—although hope will have little to do with it.


Only preparation can help avert further tragedy. And only positive, forward-thinking leadership can steer us through.


After this summer, we’ve learned a few things as a people.


The first is that we’re now living in dangerous times. The footage of the Navy evacuating children from burning beaches will not be forgotten.


The second is our volunteer firefighters, our emergency service workers and our defence personnel have reminded us just how remarkable we are as a nation.


The third thing is that we were unprepared. Not because we didn’t know what was coming, but because of complacency at the very top.


33 people have died. More than 3,000 homes have been lost. More than a billion animals killed. More than 12 million hectares burnt.


We have to reorganise our defences against fire. With new knowledge, more resources, better leadership and a greater level of national cooperation.


The starting point on what will be a long journey is a change in our political culture. The populism that is overwhelming politics today simply has to end.


People saw during the bushfire emergency just what we can achieve when we show our best selves.


The courageous firefighters put everything on the line, and sometimes tragically paid with their lives. We’ll never forget them. Including those who came to our rescue from overseas.


People reached deep into their pockets to donate many millions of dollars to support the relief effort. Corporations, sporting bodies, schools, clubs, and musicians all joined in.


They came to the aid not just of people, but our animals too—showing a warm-heartedness that impressed the world.


Now they’re flocking back to the burnt districts as tourists, taking an Empty Esky, spending money to help with the economic recovery.


Our collective response radiated a glow that our country can be proud of. We can’t let it disappear.


We have to capture a little of that sunlight and let it shine on our national conversation – and our national leadership – as we look to rebuild and confront the other big issues facing our country.




By the middle of November, the fire situation was starting to fulfil the worst fears of emergency services experts and local communities alike.


At that time, I wrote to the Prime Minister with practical and constructive suggestions based upon proposals and conversations from Government reports, former emergency service chiefs and frontline volunteers in Queensland and the NSW North Coast.


And we continued to advance constructive suggestions.


A call for a national response, coordinated by COAG.


A call for more involvement from our Defence Force.


More support for aerial firefighting, based on recommendations from the experts.


Financial support for our volunteers.


Climate change mitigation and adaptation measures.


Mental health support for those affected by the fires.


An ecological audit to assess the impact of the fires on native habitat and wildlife.


On all of these measures, it took weeks – and sometimes months – before the government finally acted.


The Prime Minister wrote back to my November request saying further action could occur, “should the need arise”.


Then day after day, week after week, month after month, the response was: “This is a state issue”.


He memorably said, “I don’t hold a hose” and firefighters “want to be out there”.


When we finally did get more of a national response, a political marketing advertisement was ready to go at the same time.


Authorised by the Liberal Party, showing defence assets, with a soundtrack more suited to a Hollywood fictional depiction than the real life tragedy unfolding, it even led you to a donate button.
Not to donate to the bushfire victims, but inexplicably, to the Liberal Party.


This complacency was there in spite of clear warnings from current and former fire chiefs.


But because those fire-fighters were adamant that climate change was an underlying cause of the coming catastrophe, they were ignored.


Winning the culture war against science was critical. Rejecting ideas because they were put forward by Labor was more important than accepting the practical common sense suggestions we were making.


Everyone knows that this has been a summer of disaster.


For the Prime Minister and this government, though, it’s been a summer of complacency. It’s been one where their arrogance has been on full display before the Australian people.


One in which the Prime Minister refuses to ever admit that he made a mistake.


One in which the Prime Minister was once again loose with the truth, twisting facts to suit his own political position.


One in which those who tried to come together in the national interest, were attacked as the government’s opponents.


Where this government is offered cooperation, it opts for division.


It continues to exploit every cynical funding mechanism to buy its way back into power. The sports rorts scandal shows it doesn’t understand the difference between taxpayers’ funds and LNP funds. They see infrastructure as pork-barrelling, where it should be seen as nation-building.


No wonder they’re obsessed with integrity when it comes to industrial relations but don’t want a bar of a national integrity commission.


The inertia around the bushfire crisis exposed the Government’s weakness at its very core.


Just as there was no adequate plan to deal with the bushfire crisis, there is no plan for the nation’s economy and its softness.


No plan for wages. No plan for social advancement. No plan for the aged care crisis. No plan for climate change. No plan for this nation’s future.




When I launched the Weatherill-Emerson review of the last election at the National Press Club in November, I said I wanted to offer the Australian people something better.


A vision which is positive, aspirational and modernising.


I want Labor to play a constructive role in Australia’s future. We’ll hold the Government to account each and every day – but we’ll do it in the national interest, not the interests of partisan politics.


Labor’s priority has always been, and always will be, to shape change in the interests of people.


And I want to see a new type of leadership that ends the divisive culture wars and gets us talking honestly and respectfully to each other about the nation’s future.


We can avoid the worst excesses of American politics—but only if we really try.


Labor is laying the foundations of our big Renewal Project.


We’ve put the loss of the last election behind us in the rear view mirror, and we’re looking forward with new confidence.


Our National Policy Forum has met to begin a thorough policy overhaul.


Our National Platform is being redrafted and renewed to provide a modern expression of traditional Labor values.


A date has been set for the next National Conference, at which we will democratically decide our way forward as a social democratic party in the third decade of the Twenty-First Century.


I’ve now made four vision statements – “On Jobs and the Future of Work”; “On the Economy”; “On Democracy” and this week “On Respecting and Valuing Older Australians”.


They are key indications of our priorities, consistent with the five themes of our policy development.


I’ve spoken about the need for a strong economy which creates jobs, one that works for people and not the other way around.


We believe in creating wealth as well ensuring its fair distribution – because we know that trickle-down economics only rains misery on working people.


We want to prioritise regional jobs, to benefit those communities and take pressure off the capital cities. That is why I’ve created a Regional Jobs Taskforce under Meryl Swanson to lead this work.


We believe in investing in our people and our public infrastructure, and we believe in backing the aspirations of the Australian people.


No one held back and no one left behind.


But we know that Australians don’t just aspire for themselves. They aspire for their country – and they expect that same determination from their political leaders.


That’s why I’ve spoken about fixing our democracy.


Our vision is of an Australia where First Australians have a Voice that is loud, and strong, and heard – and where journalists can go about their work without fear of police prosecution.


Our Commonwealth might be young. But we should be judged on how we treat those who have spent a lifetime building this nation.


The five themes; jobs and growing the economy; fairness and opportunity including education and health; nation building infrastructure; climate change action and enhancing our natural environment; and a strong global voice are guiding our positive agenda for a future Labor Government.


Developing this agenda while holding this Government to account for their actions or lack of action – that is our task each and every day.




History shows that Labor is the Party Australians trust in moments of crisis.


And that’s why we have to take the lead on defending our country against the dangers of climate change.


Not just adaptation, but prevention too.


We should listen to science.


Not a radical statement since the enlightenment, but for some a radical declaration when it comes to our changing climate.


The world’s scientists have set out what must be done.


To keep the planet safe, we have to achieve less than 2 degrees of global warming – and as close as possible to 1.5 degrees.


To do that, the world must achieve net zero carbon emissions by the year 2050.


In other words, the amount of pollution released into the atmosphere is no greater than the amount we absorb which can occur through agriculture, forestry and other means.


Some have called this ‘carbon neutral’.


This is what the world agreed to in Paris —Australia included.


Whether the current government accepts it or not, this goal is fast becoming the reality.


All states and territories in Australia have already promised to operate in a carbon neutral way by 2050.


The Business Council of Australia is calling for it. AGL, Santos, BHP, Amcor, BP, Wesfarmers, Telstra and others all agree.


73 countries, including the UK, Canada, France and Germany, many with conservative governments, have already adopted it as their goal.


Australia should too.


We pride ourselves on always pulling our weight.


And we have seen climate change be a factor in our devastating bushfires. We could see it, smell it, even touch it.


Our amazing continent is particularly vulnerable. So we have a lot to lose. But the good news is we also have a lot to gain.


Action on climate change will mean more jobs, lower emissions and lower energy prices.


As Ross Garnaut says in his most recent book:

“Australia has the strongest interest among developed countries in the success of the global effort on climate change.”


Not only will we be among the hardest hit should temperatures get out of control, but he says:

“we have the most to gain economically from being part of the global transformation to a zero-emissions economy.”


In an important study the CSIRO found last year that net zero emissions by 2050 would result in higher wages, higher growth and lower energy costs.


And in recent months we had some foreshadowing of the costs of inaction. And that’s before we see the carbon tariffs and other measures that are being promoted by many of our trading partners.


That’s why today I announce that a Labor Government will adopt the carbon neutral target of zero net emissions by the year 2050.


This should be as non-controversial in Australia as it is in most nations.


This will be a real target, with none of the absurd nonsense of so-called ‘carryover credits’ that the Prime Minister has cooked up to give the impression he’s doing something when he isn’t.


That’s not acting. It’s cheating. And Australians aren’t cheaters.


A Labor Government will never use Kyoto carryover credits.


Climate change is real and needs a real response.


I’m passionate about this, just as I am about strengthening our economy and creating jobs.


Action on climate change means more jobs.


It means cheaper and cleaner energy for families and businesses.


People just want to get this done.


The climate wars have seen a decade wasted, when it should have been a decade won.


We should be a clean energy superpower – harnessing the wind and sun to spark a new manufacturing boom. Developing a hydrogen industry.


Creating manufacturing jobs here in Australia in new industries that provide well paid jobs.


Instead we have the Government talking nonsense that they themselves have dismissed previously.


This includes using taxpayer funds for a proposed new coal fired power station in Collinsville.


Let’s be clear. There is nothing to stop private companies investing their money in projects like this. The reason they aren’t doing that is they don’t stack up.


So they have given the proponents $4 million of taxpayer funds to see if their project stacks up. No tender process, just here is $4 million of taxpayer funds.


This is just hush money for the climate skeptics who are stopping any real reform and who stopped the National Energy Guarantee supported by Turnbull, Morrison and Frydenberg.


It’s pathetic. If it made sense the market would provide funding.


The climate skeptics are market skeptics as well.


Investors will not contribute because the economic risks are simply too great. The costs are higher and rising. And the cost of alternatives like renewables is lower and falling.


Everyone in the energy sector knows that the only way a new coal-fired power plant will be built in Australia is through significant taxpayer subsidies, including a carbon risk indemnity that the Australian Industry Group estimates would cost up to $17 billion for a single plant.


That’s why one hasn’t been opened since 2007, construction hasn’t begun on one since 2004 and tenders haven’t been called for one this century.


This Government is scared of the past, but terrified of the future.


Like Keith Pitt – the new Minister for Resources – claiming solar panels and lithium batteries could turn out to be this generation’s asbestos. Let that one sink in for a minute.


Or the Senator Matt Canavan calling renewables the dole bludgers of the energy system.


Or Senator Jim Molan, who recently told the ABC QandA program, he’s ‘not relying on evidence’. That says it all.


This government is merely occupying space, without showing any willingness to anticipate the future direction we should be taking.




What I’m saying today is that we need national leadership that will shape our future.


One that promotes wealth creation and its fair distribution.


One that identifies where future jobs will be and ensures Australians have the skills to fill them.


One that identifies opportunities for new industries and business, but at the same time wants every individual to be able to fulfill their potential.


An Australia that builds infrastructure, manufactures quality products and provides services here and overseas.


One that cherishes our natural environment and has a domestic climate change policy that gives us credibility to argue for international action.


An Australia that can stand tall and proud in our increasingly globalised world and that takes advantage of our position in the fastest growing region of the world in human history.


An optimistic, creative and aspirational nation to provide the best quality of life for ourselves, our families, our community and our country.


An Australia with leadership as good as our people showed themselves to be during the recent bushfire crisis.


That is an aspiration worth shaking hands with.